Chocolate-Caramel-Pecans : Compromise in a Square

15

Saturday, March 31, 2007



Turns out that we are not very much in sync these days with what we want for dessert. I thought B. would be happy to have more fruits and light mousses to eat after dinner since Spring is here and the weather is very clement but it seems that I was wrong given the response I had this afternoon with my lemon dessert...
"Is there any chocolate in the house, I think I saw some caramel sauce in the fridge, what could you make with that?"...Arrrghhhh! I could have told him to whip something up himself but for one thing he can't cook and for another, the kitchen is my territory. A few looks around and a few clicks on the computer later, I had these Chocolate - Caramel and Pecan Squares chilling in the fridge.

There's nothing grand to them, just simple home baking, but making bars or squares is still relatively new to me. This is not the kind of treats we make in France and I am still quite intrigued by the multitude of recipes for all kinds of bar and squares, from fruity to nutty, cakey to crumbly. The novelty has not worn of yet and I really appreciate this kind of down home baking that I first encountered visiting family in Canada and then after settling in the States. I must have 50 recipes bookmarked here and there already and the list grew just trying to find a recipe for these! I used salted butter caramel sauce I had leftover from a cheesecake, but the following recipe gives you the instructions to make your own.

Chocolate, Caramel and Pecan Squares, adapted from several recipes at allrecipes:

Crust:

1 cup Graham crackers crumbs
1/4 cup melted butter
2 Tb. sugar
1/2 cup ground toasted pecans

Caramel Chocolate Layer:

2/3 cup butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 Tb. heavy cream
1 cup milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup toasted chopped pecans for garnish

Preheat oven to 350F.
In a medium bowl combine the crackers crumbs, butter, nuts and sugar. Mix well and pat in a 8x8 baking pan, lined with aluminium foil. Bake for 10 minutes. Set aside.
While the crust is baking. Prepare the chocolate-caramel filling: in a heavy saucepan combine the butter and brown sugar and cook on medium heat until bubbly. Add the cream and cook 2 more minutes. Remove from the heat and measure 1/4 cup of the mixture and set aside. Add the chocolate to the remaining caramel and stir until melted. Pour it over the crust, bake for another 5 minutes.
Remove from the oven. Let cool for 5 minutes and drizzle the reserved caramel and sprinkle with the chopped nuts. Chill until set (easier to cut that way too).

I truly wish I could have these breakfast, lunch and dinner. They are the right combination of crunch and smooth. I did not put a certain number of serving for the simple reason that in my house it serves 2....especially on the weekend....On a more serious note, you are in charge of the size of the squares....I will not be held responsible for expanding waistlines!!

Sour Cherries, Avocado and Mascarpone Verrines

21

Thursday, March 29, 2007


I am not what people would call a "fashion victim", food wise or clothes wise. I know the shape and curves of my body and what will feel good on it, what fabric I like and cuts that I love and look good on me. The same goes with food... with the exception of verrines, or what one might call "creations in a glass". Whether savory or sweet I have been fascinated by them since I saw them on Mercotte's blog over a year ago, and since I was given this book at Christmas. The European culinary scene seems to have been quite fond of them for a couple of years now and I totally fell for them , so go ahead...say it...I am a verrine fashion victim...and it is mighty sweet.

I am also another kind of food fashion victim as I love to participate in blog events. Not only do I have the chance to share my passion with others but I also discover a multitude of great blogs and talented cooks everywhere in the world. When I read about Chris from Mele Cotte's event Cooking to Combat Cancer, I knew I could not sit back and not participate.

Too many people in my life have been taken away by cancer, particularly my grandmother and my brother. I felt complete loss of control when they died: could I do anything to prevent this in me? Probably not if it is in my genetic profile, but since there is no way to know and since our family health history is not that great, it could certainly be improved, and I could do my part with what I would put in my body. My diet was not bad to start with since my parents very rarely served us boxed or processed foods but I think I developed a sort of acute awareness to the cancer fighting essentials around me.

I know what looks good on me, but I also know what does my body good and food wise, even desserts can do their part in fighting cancer. For this particular event I wanted a shock full of cancer fighting foods in evey bite and although I was not sure how my little creation would turn out I thought it was worth the try. These verrines turned particularly tasty, surprisingly tasty!
I am new to avocados in desserts but after my first try a few days ago, I have to say I am a convert and they won't go only in my salads anymore!

Sour Cherries, Avocado and Mascarpone Verrines:

Makes 4-8, depending on the size of the glas you use.

Mascarpone mousse:

5 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
8 ounces mascarpone, softened to room temperature
1 cup heavy cream

Cream together egg yolks and sugar in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Whisk until mixture is thick and doubled in volume. Remove from heat. Stir in the mascarpone until completely blended.
In a chilled bowl, whip the heavy cream to soft peaks. Fold the whipped cream into the mascarpone mixture.

Avocado Mousse:

3 avocados, pitted, skin removed and cut into cubes
1/4 sugar, or to taste
1 cup heavy cream
juice of 1 lime
In a food processor, combine the avocados, sugar and lime juice and puree until smooth. Whip the cream to soft peaks and slowly fold it in the avocado mixture.

Sour Cherry Topping:

1 cup sour cherries
1 cup sour cherry jam

Heat the jam and cherries over low heat. Let cool to room temperature until ready to assemble.

Assemble:

Do this just before serving as the avocado will oxydize a bit and get brown over time.

Layer the mascarpone and avocado mousse in glasses or conainers of your choice and top each with a 2-3 Tb. of the sour cherry mixture.

This dessert is health in a glass (if you forget the heavy cream....) as avocados are rich in glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that attacks free radicals in the body. They are also high in protein, fiber, niacin, thiamin, ribofalvin, folic acid, zinc and healthy fats (see...you can forget about the heavy cream!). Cherries contain the anti-cancer bioflavonoid quercetin.



Update: I apparently converted my temperatures wrong for the salted butter caramels. I corrected the recipe accordingly.

Sunflower Bulgarian Bread: WTSIM Easter Basket

30

Tuesday, March 27, 2007



Do you ever get stuck on one picture and its recipe while reading your favorite blogs and you go back to it many many times? The minute I saw this bread, I hit the "add to favorite' button, and stared at it several times a day while reading emails or researching items on the computer. The recipe comes originally from Zapbook and has already traveled the French blogosphere quite a bit during this past month. I have been fond of Petite Lolie's blog from the day I stumbled upon it. There is something aboout her site...it is beautiful, that's what it is. Full of life, warmth, knowledge, know hows ans how tos...It's fresh and abundant in lip smacking recipes.
Although the exact source of the bread is unknown, the recipe delivers a sunflower looking like brioche. I followed Petite Lolie recommendation and added a bit more sugar. I don't think I kneaded the dough quite enough as the the texture of the dough was not as soft as my previous brioche. Always room for improvement. The actual shaping of each roll may seem time consuming but it took me about 15-20 minutes and the end result (look wise) is well worth it.

Sunflower Bulgarian Bread, adapted from Zapbook and Petite Lolie:

200 gr. milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
500 gr. flour
2 tsp. dry yeast
50 gr. melted butter
extra melted butter for shaping the rolls

Put the yeast in a non reactive bowl. Heat the milk to lukewarm, and pour it over the yeast. Stir with a fork or spoon to make sure it dissolves properly. Add 2 Tb. sugar and slat and let the yeast proof for 10 minutes.
In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, combine the flour, eggs, remaining sugar, melted butter. Turn the mixer on slow and slowly pour in the yeast mixture. Let the dough come together and continue the kneading either by hand or with the mixture for a good 5-8 minutes.
Put the dough into an oiled bowl and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Shaping of the bread:
Once the dough has risen, divide it into 16 equal portions. Roll each portion out into a circle or oval. Take one piece, brush with melted butter, stack another piece on it, brush with melted butter again and repeat with 2 other portions. You are actually making 4 stacks of 4 portions each. Roll each stack tightly. Cut each into 4 triangular pieces. Position the rolls in a 10 inch round pan, with pointy ends facing toward the center.
Let rise for another 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375. Once the dough has risen, brush with an egg wash (egg beaten with some milk) and bake for 30 minutes.

End result...one could argue that brioche is brioche and this is yet another recipe. But come on, look at those plump folds! Every nation has its version of the basic brioche dough and I like exploring other cultures through bread baking. I am looking forward to making this one again, probably for the only reason that it looks gorgeous, tastes great, behaves well, and made my morning brighter! Yep, I am not complicated...making bread fuels my fire! I am wondering if such a bread exists in Bulgaria so I am on the lookout for a source, let me know if you have one.

One thing for sure: I am definetely putting this in my Easter Basket to be delivered to The Passionate Cook as part of this month's Waiter There's Something In My...(and because my dear mother in law is organizing brunch next sunday, as a pre-Easter menu testing).


Sugar High Friday 29: Cocoa Nibs Pavlovas

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Sunday, March 25, 2007



Well, there is more to these than just "pavlovas"...

I really thought I would have to sit this one out...The theme for this month's Sugar High Friday was "Raw Chocolate" .... where am I going to find raw chocolate in my neck of the woods? There were the obvious choices like homemade chocolate including cocoa butter in the ingredient list, or cocoa nibs that I had successfully located a couple months back. I was feeling less than inspired. I kept looking at my pantry, at the cocoa nibs, at the fridge, and then inspiration came late friday night with these:

Cocoa Nib Pavlovas, Avocado Cream, Honeyed Strawberry and Pineapple, Cocoa Nib and Pistachio Praline....

Yep....just that...Really, I can't be left alone... and before you turn your heads away, let me tell you that sweet avocado rocks! I wanted to keep up with the raw theme throughout this dessert so beside the cocoa nibs everything else is in its original form. I thought at first of filling the meringue disks with a citrus curd or a chocolate cream, but I wanted something soft and light that would let your mouth taste the cocoa nibs as well as the crunch of the praline.

I am not going to lie, I was a bit skeptical about having avocados on the sweet side, but I found tons of recipes out there for avocado dessert so it gave me the confidence to break away from my savory conceptions and get whipping. And you know what...it is amazingly good!

All the components can be made up to one day ahead. These were assembled and served saturday night for a dinner party. I did not tell people about the avocado part, everybody assumed it was pistachio custard until one guest asked me for the recipe and everybody stopped eating, raised their heads, looked at their dessert funny for a minute and digged in again to the sound of :"crunch...crunch...crunch...this is so surprising...this is so good..."

Cocoa Nibs Pavlovas, adapted from Eggbeater, via Simply Recipes:

Makes 12 shells, but I only used 6.

3 egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
2 1/4 tsp cornstarch
1/2 cup cocoa nibs

Preheat oven to 275.
Mix the sugar and corn starch and set aside. In a stand mixer fitted with the ballon whisk, start whipping the egg whites to soft peaks. Slowly add the sugar mixture in a slow steady stream, or one tablespoon at a time. Stop the mixer and with a spatula, fold in the cocoa nibs.
Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper, and with a large spoon, mounds 12 meringue rounds. Bake at 275 for 40 minutes. Reduce heat to 250 and bake for another 20 minutes. At this point you can remove them from the oven, or turn the oven off and let them cool in the oven for a few hours. I let mine sit there overnight.

Avocado Cream, adapted from Avocado.org:

Serves 6

3 avocados, pitted, skin removed and cut into cubes
1/4 sugar, or to taste
1 cup heavy cream
juice of 1 lime

In a food processor, combine all the ingredients and puree until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to assemble.

Cocoa Nib and Pistachio Praline:

100 gr. sugar, divided
1/4 cocoa nib
1/4 shelled raw pistachios

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside.
In a heavy saucepan, melt 50 gr. sugar until light golden brown. Add the remaining 50 gr. sugar and stir until the sugar melt and the caramel is dark golden. Remove from the heat, quickly add the nuts and the nibs. Pour it onto the sheet pan and let cool completely. Break into pieces to decorate the meringues.

For the fruit I just cut up some strawberries and pineapple and drizzled them with some honey to taste.

Assemble the Pavlovas:
Do this just before serving.
Set one meringue disk on a plate. Scoop about 1/4 cup of the avocado cream. Spoon some fruit over the cream and add piece of praline to decorate.

This was perfect last night, as it was still over 80 degrees at 8pm, and it finished our dinner al fresco with style, simplicity and a very light feeling both in the stomach and the mouth.



Salted Butter and Chocolate Caramels

23

Saturday, March 24, 2007



These are soft, chocolatey homemade butter caramels with a hint of salt linguering on my tongue...and I admit it without guilt or shame that I have been eating way too many of them..the ones in the picture were gone in one minute... oops...

I admit that I am a bit of a caramel, cooked sugar, freak and it is not uncommon that I play with it for fun or to enhance a dessert. I am particularly fond of salted butter caramel anything and I was in heaven when we visited Normandy and Brittany because caramels are everywhere (region's specialty) Unfortunately, B. and I are out...we finished the last one a couple of weeks ago and we are starting to show some signs of "salted butter caramels deprivation"...and it got me thinking that there must be a tried and true recipe out there that I can cook up to save us.

I started searching familiar cooking sites and pondered on this one from Epicurious, but the 70/30 rate of success and disaster made me discard it (and there were some pretty awful reviews)... After some more research I found myself on Guillemette's blog again, staring at these several times a day.

Even if you are a novice baker/cook, I encourage you to try your hand at these, especially following the recipe below as it is simple and straightforward. Making homemade caramels is not complicated but some steps are important to follow:
- just like with any other confections or desserts, only use the best quality ingredients available
-always undercook your caramel, meaning do not let it get dark golden, because it will continue to cook once removed from the heat
- buy a candy thermometer, it is cheap and will make your life so much easier
-be patient. Depending on the humidity or heat in your house, your caramel might take longer to cook than what the recipe says...but always read your thermometer and don't try to outsmart burning sugar...

Salted Butter and Chocolate Caramels, adapted from Guillemette:

100 gr. salted butter
3 gr. sea salt
50 gr. bitter sweet dark chocolate
20 ml. water
100 gr. light corn syrup
250 gr. sugar
200 ml. heavy cream

Melt the chocolate in the microwave or over hot water bath and set aside. Heat the cream to lukewarm in the microwave also, and set aside.
In a heavy saucepan, set over medium heat, combine the water and corn syrup. Add the sugar and let it caramelize until it reaches a light golden brown.
Remove from the heat and slowly add the cream to the caramel. It will bubble like made but do not worry...it will not bubble over and things come down eventually.
Return the pan to the heat and add the butter and the salt. Let the mixture cook until a thermometer registers 118 C ( about 245 F). Remove from the heat, add the chocolate and stir until completely smooth.
Pour into a parchment lined 8X8 inch baking dish. Let sit overnight.
Unmold and cut squares the next day. Wrap them in parchment paper or candy foil if they last long enough to be packed up for guests.

Here are the converted measurements, thanks to Lisa from La Mia Cucina:

½ c. salted butter
½ tsp. sea salt
2 oz. bitter sweet dark chocolate
2 Tb water
1/3 c. light corn syrup
1 ¼ c. sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream

Spinach Chappatis: Thinking Outside My Bread Box

15

Thursday, March 22, 2007



It is an understatement to say that B. and I love Indian food. We particularly love it when it comes from a small restaurant down our street. We have visited them quite enough to be familiar faces, but we always come back because of their sincere kindness and love of good food. You can't be in a rush while visiting them. Everything is prepared fresh so it is not unusual to wait 45 minutes for an awesome lamb curry and a plate of piping hot naan, chappatis or parathas. It's not that we go there every week but each time we never order from the menu and instead surrender to whatever the chef feels like cooking. There is nothing like giving him carte blanche because he then prepares foods the genuine way, does not shy on the spices and even agrees to give me some cooking secrets and tips.
Many moons ago, he told me how to make chappatis and since I make curry or other related Indian dishes a couple of times a month, I always end up calling the restaurant for an order of bread for fear mine won't be as tasty as theirs.

It's funny how a couple of things prompted me to make these awesome spinach chappatis. I have this big blue binder in which I collect recipes found on other blogs, cooking sites and such and every three months or so I pull it out and weed through the ones that I know I will never make, the ones I can find again easily, or the ones that have actually ended up on this blog. As I was looking for a brioche recipe (yes again), I found one I had printed exactly a year ago for 'cottage cheese and spinach chappatis". I was making lamb curry that night and since on Sundays, I usually prepare a couple of bread items, rolls, baguettes, sliced bread, brioche and things like that, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to think outside my bread box and make a batch.
I followed the recipe to the letter and ended up with six beautiful flat breads. We ate a couple that night and I have used the remainder throughout the week for lunch wraps and for individual pizzas. Perfect!

I found the recipe on Saffron Hut and since I did not change a thing from it, I will just give you the link. I followed the basic version for the chappatis (meaning no potato stuffing) but given how good they turned out, I plan on making Saffron's full recipes for the parathas. Undoubtedly, I will still order some from the restaurant but I intend to broaden my horizons of Indian breads.

Happy baking!

Carrot Cupcakes: Celebrate A Birthday And A Craving

19

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Today is my brother's 34th birthday so "Joyeux Anniversaire Arnaud"!

I had a serious craving for carrot cake or muffin or cupcake last night so I figured I would make a small batch and send him one via this blog as a token of my love and friendship.

I don't mean to get all too sugary sweet but I am fortunate that over the years our relationship evolved as well as it has and from being bickering sibblings with a short age difference we are now able to go on vacation together, share a kitchen and forget about the small stuff. I only wish, now that I have finally discovered what a great guy he is, that we did not live that far away from each other as he and his family are in Toulouse, France.

Back to the recipe...I often precook vegetables on the weekends for the days I have late evening training sessions and the last thing I want is to spend one more minute on my feet. I remember I had cooked carrots, broccoli and cauliflower in the hope I'd get around to making pretty vegetable purees or souffles one night...did not happen so when I opened the freezer and found 2 cups of cooked pureed carrots the only thought that came to my mind was "carrot cake"...Eh Doc! At least I am getting my vegetables in...!
I had bookmarked the recipe ages ago and just got around to doing it, killing two birds with one stone by celebrating a birthday and indulging a craving. I decided not to use nuts or other fruit such as pineapple or raisins in the filling because all I wanted to taste was the sweetness of the carrots, but feel free to add them if you fancy them. Thank goodness I ended up giving most of them to the neighbors because I could have easily polished off a whole tray!

Carrot Cupcakes With Cream Cheese Frosting, adapted from Joy of Baking:

Makes 12 cupcakes

2 cups cooked and mashed carrots, cooled
2 cups (280 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
4 large eggs
1 cup granulated white sugar
1 cup (240 ml) canola oil
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 stick (115 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
8 ounces (227 grams) cream cheese, room temperature
2 cups (230 grams) powdered sugar, sifted

Preheat oven to 350 and spray a muffin pan with cooking spray. I did not use muffin liners but feel free to do so.
In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and ground cinnamon. Set aside.
In bowl of electric mixer, beat the eggs until pale. Gradually add the sugar and beat until the batter is thick and light colored. Add the oil and the vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture and beat just until incorporated. Fold in the carrots and chopped nuts. Evenly divide the batter among the muffin tins and bake 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Remove from oven and let cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.

Frosting:
In bowl of electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter, on low speed, until very smooth with no lumps. Gradually add the sifted powdered sugar and beat, on low speed, until fully incorporated and smooth.
Decorate with nuts or coconut or anything you like.

Pillow Cheesecake With Salted Butter Caramel Sauce

85

Saturday, March 17, 2007



Yep...a cheesecake....If you are new to blogging or this whole food blogging thing you might be wondering why so many of us are baking and writing about cheesecakes this week. Why? We are answering "The Call" shouted by Peabody a few weeks back inviting to participate in "Hay Hay It's Donna Day" #10, originally created by Barbara.

There are a few reasons why this one got named "Pillow Cheesecake". It came from a conversation I had with B. one night, comfortably resting our heads on our mountain of pillows as we were contemplating going to sleep but found ourselves completly captivated by the subject of cheesecake. Why sleep when you can spend the next 45 minutes pondering a mighty important question: "what constitutes a great cheesecake?"
Disclaimer: the upcoming answers only apply to the author of this blog and her husband. Individual experiences may vary.

"It has to be fluffy...can't be dense or a block..."
"yeah....Pillow Soft..."
"gotta have some chocolate, somewhere..."
" and a hint of citrus..."
"pass me another salted caramel (brought back from Normandy)...."
"I think I just took the last one..."
"allright, then it has to have some salted butter caramel something somewhere somehow..."
.....and then we decided to go to sleep....Mom always told me never to go to bed angry, but she forgot to tell me about not going to bed hungry...we had cheesecake dreams the whole night!

Kidding aside, here were my directives for this cheesecake: chocolate, citrus, fluffy texture and salted butter caramel. How to put it all together without creating something utterly weird?

I opted to put the chocolate in the crust and settled on a recipe by Trish Deseine simply because I have been telling myself every single day that even though I have already made the same recipes at one point or another in my life, I have not made hers and maybe I should...and there it was, the perfect picture of a perfect chocolate shortbread cookie. I made the entire batch but only used half for the cheesecake bottom and froze the remaining for a later use.

For the batter, I have plenty a recipes on file in my memory bank from my days at the restaurant. For the citrus element, I grated a whole lemon and added the zest to the batter (no juice). Since i was not making a lemon cheesecake per se, I just wanted that extra bite in the background.
The secret to that "pillow" texture that B. was talking about (or was it me....can't remember...I agreed anyway), I separated the egg yolks from the whites and whipped the latter to stiff peaks before incorporating them to the batter. I admit that my days were so full at the restaurant that I skipped this step 75 % of the time. The cakes were denser but still not brick, because I used less eggs and added a Tb of cornstarch and 1/4 cup of creme fraiche.

For the sauce, I perused a few of my favorite French blogs in search of the perfect salted butter caramel sauce and found one that I liked too much to change or alter. If you read French, head over Guillemette's blog Chocolat & Caetera, you will not be disappointed but you are sure to get hungry!

Pillow Cheesecake with Salted Butter Caramel Sauce:

It is better to start the cake a day ahead of time, as it needs to refrigerate for a leat 6 hours.

Serves 12

Chocolate Shortbread Base, from Trish Deseine:

250 gr. butter, very cold, cubed small
85 gr. sugar
300 gr. flour
25 gr. cacao powder

Preheat the oven to 350.Work the butter, sugar, flour and cacao with a food processor or your fingers to get a sandy mixture. Work the dough for a minute. Divide the dough in half. Reserve one half to make shortbread cookie or refrigerate for another time.Press one half into the bottom of a 10 or 12 inch springform pan. Bake for 40 minutes.Let cool completely.

Cheesecake Batter:

2 pounds cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter (115 gr), softened
1/4 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
1 cup sugar
5 eggs
2 Tb. cornstarch, sifted
zest of one lemon

Combine the cream cheese, butter, sugar, lemon zest, creme fraiche and cornstarch in the bowl of a stand mixer and whip until combine. Do not incorporate too much air or the cake will crack. Make sure the cream cheese and butter are very soft. Add the egg yolks one at a time and whip just until combined.Whip the egg whites until stiff. Gently fold them in the cream cheese batter.
Pour the batter over the chocolate shortbread crust. The batter will reach the rim of the cake. Wrap your springform pan with heavy duty aluminium foil, set it in a large roasting pan, add enough hot water to come up halfway up the side of the pan. Bake at 325 for 1 1/2 hours. Turn the oven off, crack the door of the oven open and let your cake cool in there for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and refrigerate completely for a few hours or better yet overnight.

Salted Butter Caramel Sauce, adapted from Guillemette:

240 gr. sugar
80 ml water
115 gr salted butter
150 ml heavy whipping cream

In a heavy saucepan set over low heat, combine the sugar and water and heat just until the sugar is dissolved. Add the butter. Let it come to a boil and cook until it reaches a golden caramel color. Remove from the heat and add the cream ( it will splatter and get crazy, but do not fear and trust the recipe). Whisk to combine and put back on the stove. Let it come to a boil again over low heat and cook 10-15 minutes until you reach a nice creamy consistency. Pour into a jar and try to refrain yourself from drinking it!

This one was a keeper. We had friends over that evening and we could not stop pigging out. The cake was so light it was a sin. The sauce was so incredible we are all guilty of gluttony....it is decadent over ice cream.

Pear And Blue Cheese Mini Cakes With Cardamom and Rosemary

21

Wednesday, March 14, 2007



Let me start by saying "thank you" for understanding my frustration last night and for your support which prevented me from banging my head against the computer screen or eating half the cheesecake I had baked earlier. I love the blogging community because whatever ails you, evening something trivial as losing your post, a lot of you came and offered advice, humor and great relief that I may not be a complete 'puter moron after all!

Now back to our regular programming.

It is no news that I have been hooked on blogging events... like an addict I impatiently await my directives every month and the creative and talented Meeta did not disappoint with her latest Monthly Mingle focusing on savory cakes. I was happy to come up with something that would combine my love of savory and sweet foods. Yes, B. and I do not live on desserts and pastries only....well except on sundays it seems like!

The first time my mom made a savory cake I thought it to be the strangest thing in the world...back then I already knew I would live for all things sweet! She would bake, slice thick and cubes perfect morsels of cakes with ham and gruyere, roasted red pepper and feta, crab and dill, etc...her combinations were endless. They became some my favorite items to make and serve with a glass of wine before dinner, at a cocktail party and other events involving finger foods. I regret not copying her recipe down when I visited this past Christmas and my parents are relax in the Alps I chose not to bither them with such a small inquiry. I figured I could easily come up with my own and so I went googling around. After reading many a savory cake recipe I finally settled on this one.

I already had an idea of what I wanted for this challenge: something sweet, something salty and one or two spices and/or herbs to complement them. I played around for a couple of days and came up with a dozen combinations of fruits such as figs/prosciutto, pineapple/ham, peppers/feta, seafood/mascarpone. The possibilities are endless, limited only by your imagination. I decided upon pear and blue cheese because of their classic sense of companionship. I love cardamom in everything, especially crushed up over roasted pear, and the grassy flavor rosemary goes well with both fruit and blue cheese.Instead of my mom's usually little cubed morsels, I chose to bake these in regular sized muffin tins.

Pear And Rosemary Mini Cakes With Cardamom and Rosemary, adapted from Regal:

Makes 12 muffin sized cakes

200 gr. flour (about 2 cups) You could use half regular and half whole grain flours.
2 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
3 eggs
10 cl. milk
5 cl. olive oil
1 pear, peeled, cored and diced
5 oz. blue cheese, crumbled
1 tsp. ground cardamom (I used fresh green pods that I crushed with the back of my knife)
1 Tb. dried rosemary

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the eggs, olive oil, and milk and whisk until well combined. Gently fold in the pear, cheese and spices/herbs with a spatula until incorporated.
Pour into muffin tins (use paper molds or grease well), and bake at 350 for 25-20 minutes or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clear.
Let cool to room temperature.

Notes: baked as the recipe is written, we both regretted not taking a more pronounced stance: sweet or savory. In the morning, I would not mind a little bit more sugar whereas in the afternoon a little bit more salt would be appreciated. I am just so bad at choosing that I have come up with my own solution: a spat of strawberry jam in the morning and a spat of salted butter in the evening.
These are great for a sunday brunch, dinner party and they are great as mid morning or afternoon snacks. They taste fantastic with a cup of tea.


A Mouthful Of A Name...

18

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Pear And Blue Cheese With Cardamom And Rosemary....


Problem is I have just spent the last hour blogging about them and Blogger &%^$$(# lost my post in cyber space and I stared at the error message on my screen cursing in French...

Right now, I don't have the energy to re-write it....and I am still fuming... give me one hour or a day and I'll tell you all about them escpecially since I made them for lovely Meeta's Monthly Mingle.

Sunday Baking Makes For Good Eating

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Sunday, March 11, 2007



People think I am crazy when I tell them how I relax on the weekends....I knead dough, I watch yeast proof and bubble, I covet the rising of my loaves and delight in the smell pervading through the house. The week has been strange and hectic as I mentionned a couple of days ago and yet the only way I know to relax and recover from it is by making breakfast treats for us or the neighbors. I have got scones in the oven as we speak and we just devoured a half of this beautiful cream cheese braid you see up there.

It seems that I have done a lot more bread baking than actual dessert making this week but what you don't see is the behind the scene...There was a couple of birthday cakes, a French croquembouche for a wedding rehearsal and a whole lot of chocolate making. Granted some weeks my kitchen ressembles more a bakery than a restaurant but I am ready for a change with a couple of great events that are coming up. I also have to confess that the weather has been so nice that I have been caught playing outside when I should have been doing more adult chores (paying bills, cleaning, etc...no fun!)

What is special about this braid...? The cream cheese replaces most of the butter and leaves you with a very soft dough, very creamy without being over the top. The same dough can be the base of multiple variations and I usually do a hazelnut or almond filling alonside this one because it seems that one is never enough!

The inspiration to replace the butter with the cream cheese came from this recipe. The Fresh Loaf is a mine of knowledge and ressources for novice or advanced bakers and this blueberry braid filled with all that creamy goodness made me want to incorporate the cream cheese in the dough to see if the flavor would mellow through it and if the dough would be nice and soft as a pillow. I also have to say that I was getting a little lazy with the whole rolling, spreading the cheese inside, braiding, etc... thus dumping the cheese in the Kitchen Aid alongside the butter. It worked one night and I never looked back!




Cream Cheese Braid, inspired from the Fresh Loaf:

Makes 2 braids

Sponge:
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 cup warm milk
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Dough:
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup sugar
2 1/2-3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
6 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 oz. butter, softened

Glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
1 Tb. melted butter
milk


For the sponge: mix the sugar, yeast, and flour together in bowl. Pour in the warm milk. Beat until smooth, then cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 1/2 hour.
Add the eggs, salt, sugar, and one cup of the flour to the sponge. Beat until smooth. Then add the cream cheese and butter in small chunks and beat well. Add the remaining flour a handful at a time and mix in until you get a soft dough.
Knead the dough by hand or with a mixer about 5 minutes.
Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise and room temperature until doubled in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Deflate the dough, recover the bowl, and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, take the dough out of the fridge, deflate and divide in 2 equal pieces. For the braid, I divide one piece in too and twist them together (so not exactly the conventional braid, but at this point I can't wait any longer!!). Place it on parchment paper lined baking sheet, allow to rise 45 minutes, brush with some egg was and bake at 375 for 20- 25 minutes.

Take out of the oven, and while it cools a little, prepare the glaze. Add enough milk to the powdered sugar and melted butter to make a soft spreadable glaze and our all that goodness on your braid...and go ahead and eat because after all that you really deserve it!

Do the same for the other braid, or roll out into a rectangle and fill with your avorite filling and braid it according to the recipe on the Fresh Loaf. The details are great and you can't mess up, makes me wish I ad blueberries left because I have the other loaf awaiting its fate in the fridge...

One Step Forward...Two Steps Back

17

Saturday, March 10, 2007


No, I am not talking about the current clock adjustment we are doing this weekend. I have been asked to make 1000 chocolates like these for a wedding reception tomorrow and everytime I get closer to the magic number, B. comes behind and begs for one....so it went from 500 to 499 to 502 to 501...until I had to chase him out of the kitchen : "Don't you have papers to grade or something...?"
Hence, the reason why I have not been around much in the past few days....!

They are soft ganache centers dipped in tempered chocolate. The bride asked for flavors such as hazelnut praline, coconut, jasmine tea, Grand Marnier and plain with all three chocolates (milk, dark and white).

It was fun at first now I am dying to post about the Cream Cheese Brioche Braid I made this morning....will have to wait for tomorrow!
By the way, I onl have 25 left to dip and I can have a Martini!

Creme Brulee or Crema: A Week's Compromise

13

Thursday, March 08, 2007



This has been a very strange week, full of oddities, rescheduling, new scheduling, music jobs, extra catering activities, compromises, surprises, and adventures, but such is the life of two people with more than one job and more than one hobby...luckily there is light at the end of the tunnel: a date planned for saturday night.
Following the theme of the week, I was faced with a dilemma when came dessert time the other night. I needed something comforting, reassuring, (actually I could have used a drink!). I stared at the open fridge and it took me a minute to make up my mind, but B. agreed with me that dessert would not be cake or fruit, we needed cream...we needed sugar. If only it had been the end of it! I wanted coconut cream something with a crunchy top, while B. wanted honey cream something without crunch...and the conversation that followed ressembled something of a ping-pong game:
"coconut creme brulee!"
"honey crema!"
"creme brulee!"
"crema!"...

Remember: ...compromise... So I made one of each, same batter, same cooking time, just a different way to eat them...and I sneaked coconut into B's crema by infusing the mixture with dessicated coconut and straining it prior to baking. He noticed it but agreed that it added a surprising flavor to the dish....ressembling very much the flavors of our work week.

When it comes to creme brulees, cremas or flan, I follow the same recipes I used at the restaurant, scaled down for home purposes, but I really have no clue where and when they originated since they were taught by the departing pastry chef to the newcomer and so forth so here is one that The Chef showed me and that I eventually passed on also.

Honey Coconut Creme Brulee and Crema:

Serves 4

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup dessicated or shredded unsweetened coconut
extra shredded coconut and sugar for the brulee crunchy topping

In a heavy saucepan, bring the cream and milk toma gentle boil. Add the honey and coconut, remove from heat and let infuse for a couple if minutes.
Beat the egg yolks for a minutes and gently temper them with a bit of the hot cream: pour some slowly over the yolks while whisking, when this is incorporated, pour the rest of the cream.
Let the batter cool to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 350. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve and divide among 4 ramequins or baking dishes.
Put the dishes in a roasting pan, pour hot water at the bottom of thepan so that it comes halfway up the sides of the ramequins. Cook for a bout 15-20 minutes ir until it appears set ion the edges but still a little wiggly in the center.
Let cool.

For the Crema:
You can enjoy it at room temperature or eat like my husband: very cold with a cup of steamy coffee.

For the Honey Coconut Brulee variation:
sprinkle some sugar and cocnut on top and put under the broiler until nice golden brown, or use a blow torch if you have one. I was not patient enough (remember.. a week full of oddities and weirdness) so I did not wait for mine to get brown...

Dulce de Leche Brioche Rolls

35

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


A little prep does a lot of good! Start these on saturday evening and you will be rewarded with the most comforting sunday breakfast or brunch. As a baker/cook I know that a little preparation and planning is best, but in the case of yeasted breads, I tend to get a craving at odd times of the day (read late afternoon) and find myself baking late at night, thus smelling fresh brioches and rolls right when I am about to go to bed. Granted it makes my dreams extra nice and warm but I get up to a slightly older loaf when I'd rather have a fresh piping hot roll on sunday morning.

I started these rolls on saturday evening as we decided to spend a cozy night at home, and relied on my stand mixer to do most the kneading. I divided the recipe in half, made a regular brioche with a portion of the dough and used the other half for rolls. I was thinking pecan sticky buns, or cinnamon rolls but then again I wanted creamy and caramel so I filled them with cream cheese and homemade dulce de leche, parked them in the fridge overnight and baked them on sunday morning....and reaped the rewards sitting on the couch reading the morning paper...my idea of a good day off.

Dulce de Leche Brioche Rolls, adapted from Epicurious:

1/3 cup warm water (105°F to 115°F)
1/3 cup warm milk (105°F to 115°F)
2 envelopes dry yeast
3 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, each stick cut into 4 pieces, room temperature
1 egg, beaten to blend with 1 tablespoon water (for glaze)

Place 1/3 cup warm water, warm milk, and yeast in bowl of standing heavy-duty mixer; stir until yeast dissolves. Fit mixer with dough hook. Add flour and salt to bowl; mix on low speed just until flour is moistened, about 10 seconds. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl.
Beat in 3 eggs on low speed, then add sugar. Increase speed to medium and beat until dough comes together, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low. Add butter, 1 piece at a time, beating until each piece is almost incorporated before adding next (dough will be soft and batter-like). Increase speed to medium-high and beat until dough pulls away from sides of bowl, about 7 minutes.
Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rise at room temperature until almost doubled in volume, about 1 hour. Lift up dough around edges and allow dough to fall and deflate in bowl.
Cover bowl with plastic and chill until dough stops rising, lifting up dough around edges and allowing dough to fall and deflate in bowl every 30 minutes, about 2 hours total. Cover bowl with plastic and refrigerate an hour.
Take the dough out of the fridge and divide in half.

For the buns: roll out the dough to a 14x9 inch rectangle. Spread 1/3 cup softened cream cheese, leaving a 1 inch border. Spread the Dulce de Leche on top, it is messy, it will spread but hey! it's good. Roll into a log and cut into 12 pieces. Place them in a buttered 9 inch round pan, cover and refrigerate until the next morning. The dough will rise slowly overnight.
In the morning, bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes.
You can repeat with the other half or make a brioche loaf like I did (for another post).

Dulce de Leche:

I use "boil til done" method: take a 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk and put in a large stockpot or dutch oven. Fill with water well above the can. Turn the heat on high and let it boil for a couple of hors. Make sure there is always enough water to cover the can.

Nostalgia & Riz Au Lait

21

Sunday, March 04, 2007


Rice pudding is not something I make on a regular basis. Adding to the things you did not know about me, I have carbs/desserts food quirks: I don't know why I can easily justify the carbs of a cake but yet have a difficult time justifying carbs like bread or rice puddings for dessert...I guess it's got to do with the visiualisation of the grain/sin at hand. I know, I know..I have probably passed a lot of wonderful recipes that way but I am changing...

I usually think about desserts like rice pudding as the ultimate cold weather food, the kind awaiting you after a long walk in the snow or a breezy stroll on a northern seashore. Well, I live in a warm region of the US and the numbers of cold days we have had so far is still in the single digits, not very enticing for long braised dishes, stews and warm puddings. We are grilling, in our shorts and sandals and enjoying massive amount of ice cream, tarts and cakes. I am not really complaining, but a little cold makes you appreciate a warm evening by the fire, and would give me the desire to turn the oven on. For my fellow bloggers up north: I am not complaining....!

If you have read this so far, I have just given you what would be perfectly good reason for me not to make Rice Pudding... so why oh why did I make it? Well, a couple of days ago I called my mom and we started talking about the few flecks of snow they had just had during the night, how my grandfather was feeling the cold weather in his arthritic knees, how much he was missing my grandmother and of course how much she dislikes northern weather being from Montelimar, but as long as there was sunshine she was ok. From that moment on and until we hung up, I could feel my heart fill up with nostalgia, the faint aroma of my grandmother's rice pudding drifting through my kitchen and when I closed my eyes I could taste the soft vanilla sugar each spoonfull would leave on my mouth. Miles away from home and from the people I hold dear and miss everyday, I had found myself in their space, in their present thanks to another food memory, and if you knew my grandmother, it would not surprise you a bit.

While I was home this past Christmas, I asked my grandfather if I could look through her boxes of recipes. Two large biscuits (cookies) tins that she had filled over the years with various magazine clipped recipes, many handwritten ones for family favorites or from friends. There were many duplicates, which made us laugh aplenty...how many rabbit terrines recipes does one woman need? We found 5, all the same.... I was looking for a few specific ones: her apple tart, clafoutis, chocolate and lemon cakes, and her rice pudding. I am pretty sure I am the only one who remembers it. See, it was not real dessert...it was the magical dessert she would make us when we were sick. Hers was soupy if you were really bad, sweeter if you were on the mend. Me, I liked being in the middle, especially because she would add some fruits to it and she would never forget to put a whole vanilla bean in it.


If you have read my last post, you know that I am known as the "Queen of sticky rice". I don't cook fluffy grain, I always end up with mush, no matter what tutorial or chef I follow. I think I gave Chef Roland a few grey hair back at the restaurant! But it's grandma's "Riz au Lait" we are talking about! You can imagine it took me less than 30 seconds to put the saucepan on, the vanilla out and the Nostalgia in! Here is her recipe, no specific source given which was rare for her, so I am guessing it was a recipe that evolved with time and she finally came to a combination if ingredient that she liked and worked for her.




Mamie Paulette's Riz Au Lait (Rice Pudding):

Serves 4

3 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
2 oz arborio rice
1 vanilla bean
1 oz. butter


In a heavy saucepan, combine the milk, sugar, vanilla bean split in half, and the rice. Cook over low heat until all the milk is absorbed and the rice is nice and tender. Take the pan off the heat, remove the vanilla bean, and whisk in the butter. Pour into ramequins and serve warm or refrigerate if you have to wait to eat it...but that would be a shame!
Serve with fruits or plain drizzled with some honey.

I never realized how a simple bowl of this rice pudding would bring on such a complex feeling called Nostalgia: bitter-sweet memories that make you the person you are today an yet so difficult to visit.

I am entering this recipe in Ellie's event "Nostalgia" for March. Head over to her blog for more details and scrumptious recipes written with care and witt.

In Case You Were Curious

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Saturday, March 03, 2007


A couple of weeks ago Mrs. B from Eating Suburbia tagged me to participate in the "5 Things Meme" going around the bloggosphere. So here they are, 5 things you probably don't know about me:

1/ My husband is 19 years older than I am, we have been married 9 years (july). Yet, it feels like we were married yesterday and he acts like a kid, much like his own father. When I met my husband, I felt home for the first time in months. Something was telling me to stop running, that I had found inner peace…the first day we met. My husband wrote me a 2 page letter trying to make sense of our meeting and of what forces had brought us together and left it on my doorstep…the day after we met.

2/ I have diplomas, Masters degrees, I can speak and read many languages, I can pull sugar, run marathons, and yet I CAN’T cook rice…unless it is sticky rice you want!

3/ I listen to every genre of music. My dad played classical music all the time when I was growing up and I snobbed it for a while, the college years, then I came back to it. I remember quiet weekends with us doing crafts and my dad painting while listening to music. Music is always on at our house. B. plays trombone in a Jazz band and he is always humming or listening to something and I am never faithful to one genre of music. If you were to put salsa on then and there, I would get up and start shaking my hips….if you were to put on some rock, I would start jumping up and down….or calm down with a good classical piece. I am versatile.

4/ There is a dark pink mark on my right upper thigh…not a birthmark….but the place where my brother bit me over 20 years ago….I think I said something I should not have! Ah!!

5/ I am addicted to…”Cheez It”…Yep! Discovered them when I first moved here…don’t get me the white cheddar, the spicy jalapeno, the gourmet parmesan, don’t try to repackage the reduced fat ones or buy them at the healthfood store…I am addicted to the orange neon cheddar full fat '"Cheez It"….Na! I said it! I am sure in a few years I will glow in the dark!

I am tagging:
Esther from Boxcar Kitchen
Gilly from Humble Pie

On A Quest: Gerard Mullot's Cerisai Cakes

13

Thursday, March 01, 2007


Gerard I need your recipe! I want it so bad I am ready to make them as many times as necessary until I get the consistency right. The originals were divine.

When I went home for Christmas, B. and I left the family for a few days and booked a hotel room in the 6th neighborhood right across from the famed bakery of Gerard Mullot. Macarons, croissants, fig and walnut bread, chocolate ganache tarts became our regular fare for breakfast. One morning I asked for one mini cake called a Cerisai: a pistachio cake with sour cherries inside...and it was heavenly light, flavorful...and B. only got my crumbs... I vowed to re-create them once I'd be back in the US and since then I have been looking for a recipe that would come close or that I could adapt and play with until I find the right way to make them. Maybe Carol can coax the man into giving the recipe away...in the meantime I'll keep trying.

I was playing catch up on my blog reading one day and visited one of my favorite French blogs, Eggs and Mouillettes, written by the talented and witty Fabienne. She posted a recipe that made me think I would have a good start reproducing Mullot's original. It was close to a Financier recipe and full of pistachios. I had sour cherry jam on hand so I got cranking. I had planned to follow the recipe to a T...multi-tasking with dinner and a sick dog made me leave the butter completely out of the recipe. They still turned out nice in shape and pistachios flavor but I am sure that the butter would have added a little softness to the finish product. I will try it again just as Fabienne posted it, but I already have made a list of several changes to try in upcoming attempts in re-creating them. I am that fixated...I will keep you posted with each one I make until I find the right one!

Mini Pistachio and Sour Cherry Cakes, adapted from Florence Edelmann

Makes 6 -8 cakes

100 gr. powdered sugar
40 gr. flour
125 gr. unsalted pistachios, finely ground
(120 gr. melted butter...that I forgot)
5 egg whites, lightly beaten to a foam
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cherry jam

Preheat oven to 350.
Sift together the flour and powdered sugar. Add the pistachios, the butter (if you don't forget it), the egg beaten egg whites and the vanilla. Mix with a spatula without working it too much.
Spoon 1/4 cup in the bottom of buttered muffin tins and add a heaping Tb. of sour cherry jam. Spoon another 1/4 cup of batter on top of the jam and bake bake for 15 to 20 minutes.

Don't get me wrong, these were very good but they were no where close to what I had in Paris...so back to the drawing board!

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